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Pt Animals

When Viagra sauce recently appeared on the menu of a hotel restaurant in France, not only did it give new meaning to the phrase bon appetit, but it also further blurred the already fuzzy lines between food and sex--especially where French cuisine is concerned.

Jean-Louise Galland, the chef responsible for inventing "beef piccata in Viagra sauce with fig vinegar and fines herbes," got into serious trouble with the French version of the FDA, which marched right into the kitchen and spoiled the fun by confiscating Galland's illegal Viagra supply (Europe has yet to lift its ban on the impotence-reliever). "I don't understand it," Galland complained to a reporter. "They make medicine to make love better, and they want to make war with me!"

But many gourmands in France--indeed, around the globe--would argue that, with all that truly superb French food, there's no need for Viagra. Other than the sex act itself, there's little in life more carnal than slurping the flesh off the bones of a still-steaming coq au vin, and anyone who's ever shaved a few Perigord truffles across an omelette knows what that can lead to. In fact, an impassioned French meal can even negate the necessity for sex. "Never underestimate the place of food in the life of the French," native Frenchman Phillippe Jullian once said. "When a couple, whether married or not, no longer has any desire for each other, the table remains a far stronger bond than the bed."

So before you call in an order for those little blue pills, you might want to explore the natural effects of eating at Le Delice, one of Denver's first true French cafes, which took up residence in Cherry Creek when it was still a modest residential area. Owned by Maurice and Nicole Cochard, this smallish space is the third restaurant for the couple, and they say it's the last.

"People ask us to think about opening another place with them or tell us they want us to do something in their part of town," says Nicole, a pastry chef who oversees Le Delice's extensive bakery. "But with all the headaches we are having with getting and keeping staff in this crowded market, we say, 'No, thank you.'"

The Cochards are originally from Macon, in the Burgundy region of France. They were working at a restaurant there (he apprenticed as a chef; she comes from a family of bakers) in 1968 when their boss said he had a cousin in Denver who was looking for some help at Cafe Bonaparte for eighteen months. Those eighteen months turned into thirty years--and counting. By the time Cafe Bonaparte closed, the Cochards had fallen in love with Colorado, and Maurice went on to work at Lafitte's on Larimer Square for eleven years before it shut its doors in 1982. The couple then moved to Berthoud and bought a restaurant called Chez Francois (its space is now occupied by The Savoy); a few years later they sold it and opened a French bakery and cafe in Fort Collins.

"That did not go well," Nicole admits, adding that she'd rather not go into details. "When we got out of it, we had $3,000 left to our name." They used that $3,000 to start Le Delice, in an area that they felt was rife with promise--with good reason. "We started with just sandwiches, and we could seat only 25 people," she says. "It was very small, and we built from that."

The restaurant eventually took over the space next door, giving them forty more seats. And they've needed them. While much of Le Delice's faithful clientele is heavily blue-haired--the dining room is peppered with ladies who lunch and people old enough to remember when Julia Child was a young hipster and duck à l'orange was the next big thing--in recent years the restaurant has been discovered by Cherry Creek's next generation of páte animals.

Maurice's straightforward menu offers something for everyone, at all hours. At breakfast I've sampled the sturdy Belgian waffles ($5.95), which came with two beautifully basted eggs and thick, hickory-sweet bacon, and the Mediterranean eggs ($4.75), scrambled the way only the French know how to do them (slightly undercooked and buttery soft) and mixed with diced potatoes, mushrooms, tomatoes, onion and green bell pepper, with just enough cayenne to bring up all the flavors. Bonjour!

At lunch, the French onion soup ($4.95), with its thick crust of Swiss cheese and sophisticated veal base, was a classic call. So was the croque monsieur ($5.95), which sandwiched good-quality French ham between bechamel-soaked slices of French bread, then topped everything with a blanket of broiler-melted Swiss cheese. On a much lighter note, the cold poached salmon ($7.75) came with two sauces that epitomized the sensuality of French cuisine: a tarragon mayonnaise and a milk aioli, both of which were eyes-rolling-back-in-the-head rich, perfectly emulsified and gone long before we finished the beautiful salmon fillet. The three-egg omelette ($5.95) was another rich offering, but more through taste than texture. Crammed with mushrooms and scallions, the omelette came with a Provençale tomato, steamed cauliflower and white rice, for the sort of satisfying cafe meal that makes Francophiles out of otherwise steadfast Americans.

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